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Moving on from the broadcast era

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick | 10:40 UK time, Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The broadcast era is coming to an end. The network era is well under way. Only openness can keep the BBC relevant through the transition.

Why do I want the BBC to be more open?

I want it to open up to the people who fund it and - more important - the people who underwrite its legitimacy (that's you and me). The closed, broadcast-era BBC sells me a licence to view the stuff it makes. In the open, network era it's the other way round - I licence the BBC to represent me and my aspirations in its output.

I want the BBC to set out its plans for the post-broadcast era (which is here now, in case you hadn't noticed). I want the clever people who work there to show us how they plan to replace old-man Reith's monolithic, centralised consent machine with something more distributed, more open - something adapted to the network era.

I want to hear how the BBC can adapt to the shift from the creation of linear content to the creation of a library of tools and resources, open source code and rich, reusable content (some of which will still feature Bruce Forsyth) that will make things possible and create real opportunities for generations of British people.

I want to learn how the BBC will adapt its magnificent, industrial-era guiding principles - Inform, Educate and Entertain - to the manufacture of tools that support learning (formal and informal), creation (for love, for fun, for profit), enterprise (encouraging entrepreneurship), participation (in the democratic process, in society and institutions) and community (linking people, finding common ground, social coherence).

I want to see evidence that the BBC can create content and processes in a web-like way, that loyalty to arbitrary broadcast-era concepts and structures - channels and series and genres and so on - won't hold back the transition to new forms and ways of working.

fortress.jpg

Photo of a fortress from stevec77 on flickr

I want to see that the BBC believes in all this, that there's an acceptance that fortress BBC is indefensible and that a retreat to 'what we do best' (the defence of existing brands and practices) can only make things worse. This is not about change for its own sake or about imposing trendy Internet novelties: it's about the survival of the Corporation and about its continued relevance for Britain.

And finally I'd like the BBC to do all this with real confidence and optimism and with a sense that the benefits of getting this epic transition right are incalculable. If the Corporation can tackle two or three really big, really ambitious open projects - liberating the archive for the nation's benefit, creating an identity platform that gives ownership of user data back to the users or pulling off some kind of Wikipedia mind-meld to blend the BBC's awesome editorial resource with the net's fastest growing library, for instance - the support and enthusiasm of the licence fee-payers will be much easier to secure and the whole task will seem much less daunting.

Before I started here I wrote a handful of blog posts on this topic at my personal blog:

Freeing content at the BBC

The BBC Common Platform debate

A common platform

In the last couple of months I've seen some evidence that the BBC is ready for this challenge and I've documented some of the important work that's already under way.

Picking a couple of examples:

Mark Friend, Controller of A&Mi, told me about a fascinating plan to provide access to web site users' attention data and about his vision for an open speech radio archive.

Tom Scott explained the explosion of links to external music resources taking place at /music. Rob Hardy (and Michael Sparks) told me about the huge amount of code already released under various open source licences by the BBC's developers.

But there are large parts of the Corporation (not least in the various management suites) where the old broadcast truths still hold and where the transition has hardly begun. At Common Platform I drew a picture of the barriers to openness I've learnt about since I arrived: daunting but not in any sense insurmountable!

The BBC's Building Public Value, written four years ago, offers an early blueprint for the transition to the network era. It's a sadly neglected document that could do with updating.

Here's a terrific blog post from Tom Scott who is a very important techie in BBC Audio & Music. His starting point is Building Public Value.

I'll keep you informed!

Steve Bowbrick is blogger in residence, BBC Future Media & Technology

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    1) So just to confirm, no decisions have actually been made.

    2) Repeating something continuously doesn't necessarily make it come true (see equal opportunities aspirations)

    3) The BBC news website was absorbed into BBC TV News (and not the other way round)


    Greater transparency and tangible evidence of decision making are the only things that are going to break the inertial self-interest.

  • Comment number 2.

    Why not enable BBC iPlayer to international viewers for a fee? I know lots of european people who would like to watch shows like dragons den, spooks, top gear etc and would be prepared to pay. You could either charge a subscription fee of 1 month's unlimited usage for a certain fee or 10 shows for a certain fee or just single ep fees. You could make quite alot of money from this, especially from europeans. If you let them download the file as 720*400 1200kbps h264 aac 100 or even 720p as 1280*720 h264 aac with a 2500kbps+ video bitrate then the person paying would be very happy as they could keep it on their pc and watch it as many times as they want. Maybe use the upcoming divx7 standard of h264 which would allow lots of users to play the downloaded file on standalone players when firmware updates come out for divx certified devices.

    The world is a whole lot bigger than just the UK, you could make alot of ££ from this. I dont believe you sell tv shows via itunes either, why not? american channels do and make quite alot of money from it. Itunes would pay for the bandwidth so why not sell tv shows on that?

  • Comment number 3.

    Who's paying for all of this freeing of content?

    And why do you advocate the BBC taking a political line on changing copyright law, when their entire constitutional point is to be impartial?

  • Comment number 4.

    BBC shows ARE available through iTunes - both here and in the US and there is talk of opening the iPlayer to international users as we speak - the question is how to charge for the content.

    It's only a matter of time though - and an increasing number of shows are available to buy from iTunes just eight days after broadcast on the BBC.

    I wrote a blog post looking at some of the shows on iTunes in the US a while ago:

    http://www.upyourego.com/blog/index.php/2008/10/22/bbc-on-itunes-but-not-here/

  • Comment number 5.

    didn't realise bbc shows were on itunes. The best way for iplayer to work for international users would be to have several pricing types, not just 1:

    $1.99 per ep or $2.49 for 720p h264
    $1.50 x number of eps for a series price i.e $15 for 10eps.
    $19.99 1 month unlimited subscription

    maybe even an annual subscription. I'm sure subscriptions would be popular christmas gifts.

    but you MUST allow users to be able to download the files, not just stream them and make them drm free.

    This way the BBC could make a lot of money from new revenue streams. Obviously review prices and purchase stats every 3 months.

  • Comment number 6.

    Can we keep this conversation on topic please. Steve has not mentioned making the iPlayer available to international users.

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet blog)

  • Comment number 7.

    can you create a forum nick about complaints, suggestions etc, i bet you would get loads of great feedback from a forum.

  • Comment number 8.

    I can help you with that one as well samuel1984

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbiplayer

  • Comment number 9.

    I like the idea about opening up the archive.

    I suspect, BBC is a world leader for Britain.

    Access to most of the content should be free in a sort of Broadcast statesmanship type way .

    Maybe in a Sky type way there can be some sort of subscription and/or pay per view facility. Then costs may be shared between the licence payers and those external to the Geographic Licence paying areas.

    Incidentally am I right in suspecting that the Geographic Licence Paying areas are the UK plus Channel Islands and IOM ?

  • Comment number 10.

    Re Comment 6.

    A beauty of blogs and messageboards is that ideas beget ideas and Nick Reynolds attitude is idea crushing instead of liberating.

    Let the comments go where they will unless they are offensive or overly repetative or unlawful.

  • Comment number 11.

    In response to Comment 6.

    Steve Bowbrick includes in his introduction the following assessment:

    'The closed, broadcast-era BBC sells me a licence to view the stuff it makes. In the open, network era it's the other way round - I licence the BBC to represent me and my aspirations in its output.'

    We are then told by the editor to keep the discussions 'on-topic', to stick to what Steve (representing the BBC) has provided for us.

    Surely this is exactly the kind of thinking that Mr. Bowbrick has just argued the BBC needs to move away from, albeit on a very simplified level.

  • Comment number 12.

    Altruism can deliver a wikipedia, but will it deliver the next generation of sitcoms? No, YouTube will not do that either. Let's face it - entertainment costs. No, I don't allude to Hollywood or DRM schemes, but the simple fact that business models supporting the "glasnost" of broadcasters (or should they be renamed broadbanders?) need to be invented...

    Note that the content foodchain has multiple animals lining it. And it is in each's business interest to come up with a survival strategy. So, as broadcasters flirt with new strategies, operators, set-makers, telcos, PC biggies, not to mention conservative politicians and right-wingers will all think of how to make their next dollar.

    In other words, it would be naive to conclude that one fine day, there will be an open, free (not as in beer ;-)) high quality entertainment content, all at the flick of a button, for all of God's children (and adults;-)) ...Although I'm willing to accept the hypothesis that BBC might "publish" some quality content in an open, free, "web" way, I can only relate this to free soup - there will be tastier meat out there, and people will want it, and it will not be free, open, ...

  • Comment number 13.

    #10 and #11, it is an established principle of the internet (rather than "closed" old media) that threads and comments stay on-topic as far as possible ... the primary reason for that being that uses are not likely to stick around for a discussion that starts off being of interest to them and veers off into unrelated areas.

    I, for one, switched off as soon as this blog's comments turned from the original subject matter (which I am very interested in) to international use of the iPlayer (which I am not).

    As already pointed out, the BBC has copious message boards which can cover any and every subject under the sun, so I don't think it unreasonable that comments to a specific blog posting should be kept relevant to that posting.

    The kind of anarchy that arises where any and every topic can be thrown into any and every discussion regardless of the subject serves no one because good ideas get lost in a mass of unrelated garbage.

  • Comment number 14.

    I have just been reading about bringing accountability and transparency to a wide range of services from the BBC according to Steve Browbrick and others….
    There is no accounting for taste - even family don’t always agree about what is ‘watchable’ Fortunately, there is an ever widening choice. It seems like there is no stopping Google but, more to the point, does the BBC have to copy what the other does so well? I consider myself very lucky to have been born into a media-rich age.

    Now when something doesn’t suit I can switch channels on Satellite TV, listen to Radio 4 World Service, which has already been paid for - and is available on the radio or my computer). I honestly don’t think that subscriptions will work as SKY and BT are finding out. Shame that there are so many repeats to pay for experimental progs. (which are themselves just plain boring and it is likely that some of the best were discovered and made more economically at first….and I especially abhor ‘navel gazing’ and ‘the soaps’ which seem to be more prominent and not just blogging can be blamed for that either and Steve – I would suggest it may be Brucie’s girlfriend you have been admiring? ).

    I think that it is right that programme makers should have to ‘sell their wares’ and so-called (highly paid) entertainers can be sacked when they step out of line but even Channel 4 (which is frequently OTT in its often weird choice of progs.) is careful not to offend against public decency… (I made postings on C4 long before I came here and don’t ascribe to piety!) The BBC does have an even greater responsibility and I have often wondered how we can know just how many viewers or listeners there are worldwide?

    If any of this is anathema to any bloggers I have no doubt that world government will one day become a reality - one which I am sure will not be in everyone’s interest!
    Terence

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 16.

    Well you could start by making the iPlayer service completely platform independent, by which I mean equally functional across all platforms, and as useable as the Flash implementation employed at a gazillion other websites, e.g. Youtube.

    Your current offering for any and all users who choose not to use Windows (a stuttering, stalling, second-rate implementation of something I assume to be Flash, although it's hard to believe) just aint good enough.

    'Old fashioned' broadcast BBC never tried to tell me which brand of TV I should buy if I wanted to receive its broadcasts. If the brave new network age BBC thinks that developing for one platform and expecting those who fund it to make their brand choices accordingly, then the brave new BBC is going to have a hard landing on its derriere soon enough.

    Can anyone tell me when you're next due to get hauled over the coals by the Trust for not implementing a cross-platform iPlayer yet?

  • Comment number 17.

    Well I was going to leave a comment Chris, but someone else has left onewhich you may be interested in.

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet blog)

  • Comment number 18.

    Nick, thanks for being prepared to reply, even if someone else got there first. :)

  • Comment number 19.

    Lots of meaty comments here. Thanks people. I'll respond to a couple:

    _marko. Luckily I'm not required to make any decisions. From my hotdesk in White City I can see dozens of people making decisions at a furious rate. I'm here to observe and record and to agitate a bit. That's all.

    samuel1984. International access to iPlayer is a hot topic round here (one that will probably, in the first instance, be address by joint venture Kangaroo) - and it's not so distant from the openness issues either. You might argue, for instance, that there are good foreign policy reasons for allowing foreigners to see iPlayer content. We know that the World Service is a staggeringly good ambassador for UK the UK.

    the_phazer. Who's paying? You are, of course! And as to politics: yes, any reworking of the UK's intellectual property framework would be political. But these are urgent issues and if the BBC's public purposes are best served by lobbying for new laws or for the abandonment of bad ones that is perfectly appropriate. The BBC, for instance, could invent and popularise a new rights regime for commissioned content, for instance, or pioneer a 100% open source policy for the code it develops. I'd like to see the BBC develop a bold position on copyright and push it through in the public interest.

  • Comment number 20.

    Oops, clicked save before I'd finished that post. Anyway, replying to @christownsend. You make some reasonable points about iPlayer for Mac etc. but having spent a bit of time here and noticed how many developers there are here busting a gut to get everything working on Mac and Linux I'm pretty confident there's no reason beyond the engineering challenge for delays to Mac provision (and so many of these techies are Mac users, bringing in their own machines and rigging up networks to make them work - the developer areas are a sea of MacBooks! I should take a photo).

    And besides, the openness issues with iPlayer are frankly much larger than shipping delays for minority platforms. For instance:

    - Should the BBC open access to the awesome iPlayer infrastructure to non-BBC video providers, to other PSBs or even to the general public?

    - Could the the BBC help bring on-demand or catch-up services to the dozens of quite worthy organisations and media outlets who couldn't possibly afford the infrastructure?

    - Should the iPlayer's code (any that is currently BBC proprietary) be published under an open source licence for reuse and improvement?

    - Could the BBC use iPlayer as a way to support providers of local and super-local news - providing tools and hosting for content captured by struggling local papers, for instance?

    These are just speculative ideas but you can bet that they're the kind of issues that are going to animate the Trust and the Government in the near future - especially as the crunch starts to take out local news organisations.

  • Comment number 21.

    "I want to hear how the BBC can ... creation of a library of tools and resources, open source code..."
    This is appalling. The BBC is now using tax payers money to develop software that they give away.
    Open Source has it's place, but has already damaged a lot of software careers. Seriously, I can no longer sell software. People pirate it claiming that "all software should be free...like Linux".

    Now, we have the BBC - the British *Broadcasting* Corporation - using tax payers funds to do software development and then give it away.

    Presumably, your new Open philopsophy has no problems at all with someone copying BBC World DVDs and sharing them... all in the spirit of openness.

    But it gets worse, in your followup you say there are developers "busting a gut to get everything working on Mac and Linux". So again, you use tax payers money to develop for a few % of the PC using public. Why not just publish the protocols and details and let the Mac & Linux community do this themselves.
    Before anyone says it, I'm not being pro-Microsoft here, I'm being democratic - you shouldn't be using the publics money for this.

    But then, you shouldn't be using the BBC for a political position.

  • Comment number 22.

    @Bowbrick [blockquote]You might argue, for instance, that there are good foreign policy reasons for allowing foreigners to see iPlayer content. We know that the World Service is a staggeringly good ambassador for UK the UK.[/blockquote]
    You also might argue that for the same money that it would cost in rights payments we could do a lot of things to improve foreign policy, like writing off the debt of several third-world countries. Foreign territories have broadcasters quite able to buy BBC content from BBC Worldwide if they wish to show it.

    [blockquote]the_phazer. Who's paying? You are, of course![/blockquote]
    No I'm not. What you're suggesting isn't covered by the existing licence fee - it would cost literally *billions* of pounds extra a year. So who’s going to pay for this? And who's going to get the government to push through a bill increasing the licence fee by multiple times
    [blockquote]And as to politics: yes, any reworking of the UK's intellectual property framework would be political. But these are urgent issues and if the BBC's public purposes are best served by lobbying for new laws or for the abandonment of bad ones that is perfectly appropriate.[/blockquote]
    No. It isn't. At all. I might say that avoiding a Tory government is an urgent issue due to all sorts of factors I find much more important than the UK's intellectual property framework. But it isn't right (or legal) for the BBC to turn around and decide they agree with me and that they should only show Labour Party party political broadcasts every hour until the next election.
    The BBC should not lobby for new laws at all. It is an unacceptable breach of it's charter to do so. Just because you want them doesn't mean everyone else does.
    [blockquote]The BBC, for instance, could invent and popularise a new rights regime for commissioned content.[/blockquote]
    The BBC invents new rights regimes all the time. What it doesn't (and can't) do is fundamentally alter what those rights are worth in the free market. If you want the BBC to licence everything in perpetuity it either needs huge amounts of finance or it needs to make a tiny fraction of what it does now or it needs to use much cheaper contributors who are cheaper because they're so rubbish they can't get work anywhere else. None of those seem attractive options over the status quo to me.

    The fundamental issue here is that you're simply wrong that this is a post-broadcast era. We're a good 50 years + away from that. The majority of the population still don't use IPTV at all, and even those that do mostly consume television in an overwhelmingly linear broadcast fashion. And thank goodness too, because the UK infrastructure isn't up to delivering it over IP. Hence the BBC's priorities and programming considerations still need to be firmly aimed primarily at the broadcast audience and their needs.

    Phazer

  • Comment number 23.

    Nuts. I thought blockquote worked on these blogs? Oh heck, is it because they need html style brackets?

    Phazer

  • Comment number 24.

    @The_Phazer I'll bet you a tenner about the end of the broadcast era! I'll collect in ten years when the last of the 'channels' is wound up... And it's not about infrastructure: I'm pretty sure most linear content will continue to get to my TV via transmission masts and aerials. It's about how I use it once it arrives and how I blend it with content from the net. Once my Freeview/cable/satellite box has IP hardware I'll decide which order to view shows in thank you very much!

    BTW, I've asked about sorting out your blockquotes. Might be able to straighten them out...

  • Comment number 25.

    @The_Phazer

    I'll bet you a tenner about the end of the broadcast era! I'll collect in ten years when the last of the 'channels' is wound up... And it's not about infrastructure: I'm pretty sure most linear content will continue to get to my TV via transmission masts and aerials. It's about how I use it once it arrives and how I blend it with content from the net. Once my Freeview/cable/satellite box has IP hardware I'll decide which order to view shows in thank you very much!


    Heck, I'll take that tenner and raise you ten grand. There is absolutely no way we will be looking at 'channels' being wound up in a decade. Bear in mind we're still three years even from digital switchover!

    Even if boxes capable of what you're talking about were the fastest selling consumer item in retail history (not going to happen in the current economic climate) it'd take fifteen years for 80% of the population to have one. And when they do, all the evidence is that while they start to watch some on demand content, they still watch more linear content. None of the data backs up what you're suggesting - people are too lazy to search for their own shows through a menu all the time, and people still like the sense of community from watching all at once (witness the plumetting ratings that programmes going from one of the major terrestrial channels to a digital one suffer - despite being available to nearly as many people. If it wasn't available to *everyone*, you lose that watercooler moment the next day). Some programmes simply only work live - phone in/mass participation shows, live sport, news etc.

    The PVR already exists, but takeup isn't as fast as anyone thought it would be, and those that have it still watch plenty of linear broadcast content live.

    Sorry, but any suggestion that broadcast is going anywhere in our lifetimes is the same as the books I used to read that suggested that by 1980 everyone would own a blimp and we'd have colonised Mars.

    BTW, can anyone explain to me when people want the code to iPlayer to be opened up what they actually want? The external facing code is just Kontiki + WMV DRM or Flash Media Server. You can buy both of them yourself - they're not BBC owned. The BBC code is to run the back end, which by all accounts is very specific to anyone who has the BBC's crazy outsourced systems, and nobody in their right mind who didn't already have their linear transmission handled by Red Bee would want that code anyway. That basically means Channel 4, and they've already got similar code of their own.

    And what would be the point of putting other people's shows on iPlayer? It struggles with the amount of content it has already, it's interface isn't designed for a huge increase, and it basically amounts to illegal state subsidy of companies by providing them with free hosting for no apparent reason.

    Phazer

  • Comment number 26.

    If the Phazer is reading this could he or she please get in touch with me.

    (Don't worry it's nothing bad).

    Nick Reynolds (editor, BBC Internet blog)

  • Comment number 27.

    @The_Phazer I'm ready to concede a margin of error on the date - you make a good point about the adoption curve. So here's a slightly sharper point: channels may persist well into the 30s or even 40s but they will have been irrelevant for many years for a large section - if not a majority - of the audience whose consumption habits will have 'gone non-linear' years before. Being a 'Channel Controller' which is a rather presitgious job right now, will be more about managing playout and continuity than about steering a nationally important brand...

    Answer me this: how, once the network era is properly under way, would you differentiate, say, BBC2 and BBC4, brands which for most people are already essentially indistinguishable? Likewise Radio 1 and BBC3?

    And you're only partly right about the iPlayer's tech: it may be an implementation of openly available code but it's a Rolls Royce implementation that's had millions in vested in it and it works and it sits on top of a scalable infrastructure that would make the average non-BBC engineer weep.

    The clamour for the BBC to open up iPlayer to competing PSBs (or anyone for that matter) will certainly build as iPlayer's audience starts to pass first the minority cable channels and then the smaller Freeview channels and then the smaller PSBs and so on (and especially if Kangaroo falls apart...).

    Enough. This is a most fascinating discussion but I should probably go and start another one somewhere else...

  • Comment number 28.

    To #19 bowbrick.

    "Luckily I'm not required to make any decisions. From my hotdesk in White City I can see dozens of people making decisions at a furious rate. I'm here to observe and record and to agitate a bit. That's all."

    Openness?

    Thanks for your response. The more people that know, the more feedback you'll receive. You could describe technical approaches rather than specific projects. People are hungry to know the important decisions in case they might be wrong. If the people actually working on the projects aren't communicating the details we rely on you to spread the word.

  • Comment number 29.

    Thank you... http://www.gelsesli.com/ sesli sohbet

 

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